Saturday, July 2, 2011

Legislative History: The Brooks and Clinger-Cohen Acts

The roots of the current Defense Department information technology culture can be traced to the Brooks Act of 1965. This legislation reflected a mainframe view of computing. Its purpose was to limit the growth of data centers to constrain costs. The Brooks Act was based on the assumption that if the General Services Administration would control the purchase of mainframe computers, all associated costs would be limited. The 1965 idea that closing data centers is a way to cut costs has persisted to this day. The number of Defense Department data centers has grown at an accelerated rate in recent years. It now stands at 772. However, this count has no significance as a cost-management metric.

Servers, with a capacity far exceeding what now is defined as a data center, can be purchased for a fraction of mainframe costs. A culture that pursues numerical reductions in the number of data centers without examining associated cost reduction, security, application and support characteristics may simplify Defense Department information processing but will not lead to the PIAs that should be the future of the department. This flaw in the Brooks Act thinking was recognized in the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996.

Clinger-Cohen hoped to address rising costs of information technologies; at that same time, the military was shifting to new concepts such as information warfare and information dominance. While the military was driving toward increased dependency on computers, the cost management culture created by Clinger-Cohen was lagging behind the military’s needs. Although Clinger-Cohen created the position of the chief information officer (CIO) to promote warfare-centric deployment of information technology, the management of information technology continued to install isolated projects as a way of containing technology risks.

The central CIO oversight was diluted when the role of acquisition personnel was enlarged. The acquisition corps, dominated by civilians with financial and not computer backgrounds, had every incentive to award contracts that followed regulations that were at least 20 years old. This locked the Defense Department culture into client-server concepts. These were alien to concepts that are now being implemented by leading firms such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft and IBM, as well as thousands of other commercial enterprises.

The unity of oversight that was advocated by Clinger-Cohen never happened. What exist now are the remainders of a culture that has been spending money primarily on buying networks on the assumption that if networks are built, integration will somehow follow. That is like building superhighways without thinking about the origins of automobile traffic.

Clinger-Cohen had several consequences. The share of information technology spending allocated to the Defense Department infrastructure, which supports an increasingly disjointed collection of systems, grew from 33 percent in 1992 to the current 57 percent. Because infrastructure reflects system overhead, less money was available for serving the warfighter’s needs.

Under Clinger-Cohen, there has been a pronounced shift of spending to contractors as well as to the legislatively mandated set-aside subcontracts. The best estimate of information technology spending now managed by contractors is 76 percent. There are more than 1,000 contracts with annual budgets of less than $1 million. The amount of documentation, testing and certification that is demanded by the stretched force of acquisition executives is now the preferred way of containing risks. The cost per function delivered by contractors is now a large multiple of commercial costs.

A consequence of shifting to contractors was a depletion in the cadre of qualified military information professionals necessary to provide leadership that will assure compliance with warfare requirements. As an example, there are only five flag-level officers presently in the Navy serving as “information professionals.” This can be contrasted with a decades-long experience of a four-star flag Navy officer in charge of nuclear propulsion. He is supported by 12 flag officers.

There are good reasons to argue that in terms of complexity and scope, the migration into the cloud environment will exceed the challenges faced by the late Adm. Hyman Rickover, USN. Supporting the future of computing in the Defense Department requires a culture that views information technology as a warfare capability and not as a back-office task that is best delegated to suppliers.

One of the consequences of Clinger-Cohen has been the shift of a large share of information technology costs from the military to defense agencies such as the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS). Agencies now spend twice as much ($14.6 billion) on information technology as each of the services individually (averaging $7 billion each). As a result, the culture now favors the distribution of information technologies into 2,103 systems silos. Because of funding limitations, almost every system enclave must pursue separate architectures, unique applications, diverse standards, incompatible software design methods and inconsistent operating practices.

Small projects do not have sufficient money to fund rising security requirements. The military is experiencing a rising dependency on the support from the agencies, which have no direct fiscal accountability for work done for the military.

Systems managers now concentrate more on carving out the largest information technology budget they can extract during the budget cycle than on keeping up with rapidly changing technological capabilities.

SUMMARY
Clinger-Cohen left the Defense Department with a culture that is more than 20 years old just as information technologies are charging ahead with cloud concepts. Individual project managers do not have the funds to invest in innovation. They are just trying to manage ever-smaller incremental projects.

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